Cricket, Birthday And Camp Out In The Heart Of South Africa
We reach back home around half past two and straight away getting ready for tonight’s sleep out in the remote area of the reserve. It’s in the middle of a field of the reserve, a small spot of nice open area, surrounded only by knee high grass. We clear the ground from thorny plant and rocks, collecting dried woods and checking the surrounding area for any sign of animals. There were a lion’s footprints nearby and a carcass a bit far to the south but that’s normal, it’s safe.
It’s still early but Joe lights up the fire anyway, we sit staring at the wood burning, having some drinks and roasting the marshmallow. Alex sips his beer and puffs his smoke asking my opinion about Muslim that drinking. Katie ask about pubs and are Muslim allowed to bought alcohol drinks in Malaysia. She remember somebody showed her UAE’s alcohol and drinking license and asks if it the same in Malaysia. I do get a lot of these questions for the pass of months of travelling. They didn’t meant any harm or trying to provoked asking those question, most of them were curious. Curious to know about Mecca, curious to know about the fasting, curious to know about the prayer, curious to know about halal concept. Our point of conversation lingers around alcohol for quite a while before we decide to play cricket as the sun starts to down. “Three nations!” I yell.
When I was in Sri Lanka, I watched Sri Lankan kids playing cricket in the field and at the beach. I saw them doing the bowling movement everywhere, in a store, in a mall, on a street. My previous general manager pointed out cricket is a huge sensation in Sri Lanka in one of our engagement session, trying to turn the table around as the previous announcement was made joking about English Premier League’s result, furthermore the emcee of that day is from Sri Lanka. I know nothing about cricket but the first and closest thing I ever come to cricket when I was in primary school. I signed up to join the cricket team but it was just a name, there was no activity for cricket for the rest of the year. The thing that bugs me about that game is the uniform. The collared t-shirts and the sweatpants seems out of date, I prefer baseball button up shirt and the tights pant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m straight. But when there’s men in tights pant, girls will be there too.
Two weeks ago was the first time I ever bowl and bat a cricket. I ran and the swing my arm like a pro but the ball just go straight on the ground right in front of me, the same thing reoccur again right now, I didn’t get it right. It was indeed a unique game, the longest marathon playing cricket took seven days to completed but it just not meant for me. Edward and Kyle come after they off their work, they are going to join tonight’s sleep out as well. Now it’s a battle between four nations with one cheerleader, Katie. Kyle definitely has an experience in cricket, it took him a few attempts to recall his bowling rhythm before he can bowl the ball in a graceful way. We took turns hitting being the batsman and keep Kyle as the bowler as he has a perfect throw. We hit and we run like madman only to be stop when the ball disappear in the bush and everybody walking around the bush, sweeping the grass using their feet looking for the missing ball.
The sky swallowed the sun and give birth to the moon. To the west, the sun fading over the undulating land. Its only when we couldn’t see the ball flying around then we stop the match. Katie managed to prepared dinner before we left the house, we have our dinner of the night in the dark lighten by gasoline lamps, headlamps, flame from the burning woods, moon and the stars. Michael signals me, it’s the time to surprise Katie with the cake. The cake was a little bit smashed on its way from the supermarket to this remote area. The major damage was done by Alex because he forgot the cake is in the bag, he placed his hand on the bag when he entered the minivan. I guess Katie knew about the cake, we didn’t do a good job hiding it, it’s too obvious we carry a cake inside a backpack, who would had carry a backpack horizontally. The soft transparent plastic cake’s box makes a crackling sound every time we touch it. When Alex transferred the cake into the cold container Katie asked what’s in it, Alex was sweating when he tried to lie. It was too obvious but we pretend like nothing happen.
Katie, Edward and Kyle were talking about stars and the astronomy before we come in between with the cake and the birthday song. We sing Happy Birthday as obnoxiously and embarrassingly as possible. Once the song is done Edward goes,
HIP – HIP!
And everybody yells,
Repeat, repeat again and then a round of elicited huge applause from all of us. That was new for me, a birthday song ends with “Hip hip, hooray!”. We take pictures with the flash on that blind my eyes for seconds, eat the cake and personally convey our birthday wishes to Katie. Katie ask me what I wrote in the birthday card and I ask her to read it first.
“Sir – more – ga – sir – gala – im – pee – yarn – mourn – jardy – Kenya – tar – aunt,” she read. “What does it mean?”
“It means, may all your dreams come true,” I say. “Happy birthday Katie!”
The night is still early but everybody seems ready to sleep after the dinner and the cake, further more we have to wake up in the middle of the night for the night watch. Alex and Kyle were the last two that still up before Kyle decided to sleep, leaving Alex for the first watch. I lay down on the brand new sleeping mat – the one that they bought in Tzaneen – and look at the night sky. Flash of my memories fly as I watch the stars, the day I had the talk with my superior, the day I submit my resignation letter, the day I leave, the day I fly, Mom’s tears at the airport, the bus ride to Chontachaka, the Dutch immigration, the toilet rush in Prague, the Russian girl that I didn’t get to know her name, I think fondly of Rebecca, the time where Rebecca and I were holding h – a bright point of light moving rapidly across the sky on my left that begins suddenly and then fades out a little less sudden, it lasted about three seconds top, it was beautiful, the sky brighten for a moment, I point my finger to the sky –
Joe wake me up at one o’clock, I’m on the fourth shift, just keeping the fire on and occasionally do a round watch. There’re random noise like grass movement but nothing alarming, I heard a heavy breathing at the bush nearby, Joe stand up shining the light and goes back to sleep. I wonder if it’s the same lion that roared at the early night, probably in its attacking position to pounce on us at our weakest negligent point. There is something funny about lion’s roar, it sounds like an old man were having an intercourse reaching for climax.
My hunger kicks in minutes after that, I open up the pot to eat the potjie but they already put the leftover sausages in. Now I really wish that I bring the halal chicken sausage, I already gave a thought to brought it for the sleep out but somehow the idea faded away. I walk around every few minutes, randomly flash a light at every corner of the camp site. It’s cold, my wrist watch thermometer screened a sixteen degree Celsius. I drink coffee trying fill up the boredom and fill up my empty belly. I check the perimeter again, this time a bit further from everybody, I stop at the edge of the open area, looking down at the grass in front of me, I flash the light to the left, then to the right, then I take a piss. Too much coffee.
“Ed – Ed, it’s your time,” I wake up Edward for his turn.
“Anything?” ask Edward that doesn’t look sleepy at all.
“There was something over there, breathing, but it was a while ago. Joe said there was a lion during his watch. Other than that, none,” I say.
I return back to my damp sleeping bag, I lay down watch the stars again. I close my eyes, listening to Edward’s footsteps and his flash light’s clicking, listening to the bugs singing, listening to the silence of the bush, one of beautiful sounds I heard so far.
The lion’s roar indicates it’s dawn, luckily there were no lions came nearby at our camp site last night. Although the night skyline was beautiful but it was a sleepless night, not for me but for everyone as well, our sleep interrupted due to the night watch. Lucky for Alex and Michael, they were on the first and the last watch, I get up at dawn, join Michael’s last shift watching the sunrise with another round of coffee. Edward and Kyle move out at the first light to get to work, we take the time packing, watching the last burning ember with dizzy head and groggy eyes, clean up the camp site and head home.